Illustrator & Activist
In digging into Nina Yagual’s work, we were struck by the immediacy present in her colorful illustrations. Not simply the timely (yet still timeless) subject matters that Nina often covers, like trans rights, abolishing ICE, dismantling white supremacy, and nature reclamation, but also the ripe imagery and bold messaging communicated through each piece.
Nina describes herself in a self portrait, her eyes meeting the viewer, leaping off the screen: “My DNA, like any chain of events, is destined to become its own shape, free from what man made.” The same can be said for her art, flowing from her hand and onto the figurative page. It’s destined to become its own shape, free from prescription, depending on the eyes and minds that take it in. It’s akin to how we sometimes feel in nature, entirely ourselves, unfettered by expectation — all flowing form and greater meaning.
When you’re sitting down to create your gorgeous and impactful digital illustrations, which comes first: the message you’re hoping to communicate or the visuals? Or is there a kind of harmony in the conception?
I mostly just go with the flow until a message finds an opportunity to come through. I tend to freeze up if I hold on too tightly to an idea. I don’t necessarily have to be relaxed, but I do need to be open.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about nature and how it needs us to notice it. I think in some sense my artwork functions the same way. The beauty is already out there/ in here, we just have to notice it.
What artistic mediums are you drawn to? Do you incorporate other methods or mediums into the process for creating your digital art?
I love playing with textiles so much but digital work is much faster and brings in a little more income, so I’ve been sticking to that mostly (for now).
I try to make the clothing fun in my illustrations to make me feel like I’m playing with fabric and fashion. I love painting / mixed media and hope to return to that someday.
Art is a powerful communication tool as well as a means of expression. Much of your work centers around liberation, justice, and dismantling white supremacy. Have you seen your work and its message “take flight” when your community shares it? How does it feel when it does?
It can be validating for both me and my audience to directly point out bothersome behavior within society, in that way it can be very therapeutic to know we are not alone in our experience. On the other side of the coin, I have seen many become so uncomfortable with what I have to say. At this point, they have two options, they can choose to listen and transform or they can become defensive and reject the message. Thankfully, I have seen many transform through the discomfort when confronting their undeniable association to white supremacy.
Your portrait work celebrates the uniqueness of the individual while simultaneously shining a light on the culture and community the subject belongs to. In what ways has your art helped you understand and explore your own identity?
The impact of symbolism is something I am still exploring. I am learning that there is some connection with what might be going on in my life and something that might appear in my artwork. If I am doing a portrait for someone I always ask what symbols or colors they want to see in the work, I love observing what is important to them.
I think humans rely on symbolism to make sense of life and problem solve, they can represent so much about our identity and lived experience. Dreams are funny that way too, they point out the obvious, dreams are the masters of symbolism. Sometimes it’s deep and other times it’s all good in the hood and we overthink it.
You curate a “micro gallery” called @ancient_bodies which features other Black, Indigenous, and artists of color. What drives you to uplift other BIPOC artists?
I love Ancient Bodies so much! It was created to connect BIPOC artists with each other and hopefully expose us to employment opportunities. It mostly serves as a place where we admire each other and for that, it is sacred. I also keep coming back to the idea that none of us are new here and that we are ancient stars inhabiting these bodies to tell new stories.
We’ve also admired how you use the gift of your creative work to share when people in your community are in need. Would you say you’ve always taken a communal approach to art?
Aw, thank you for admiring that. Yeah, I have always done that in different ways, it is less gritty now that I have access to a fancy computer. A lot of times I see that a fundraiser has no image or graphic, which, unfortunately, is sort of crucial for it to gain momentum. I sometimes reach out to folks and offer to make a graphic or people will reach out to me. It feels crazy to not offer, especially when some folks are going through some serious hard times and on top of all of that they have to crowd-source and advocate for themselves. I am honored to make it visually beautiful.
You’re a long-distance hiker and aspiring Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. What influence does movement through nature have on your work?
Ugh, being in nature will forever honor my truest self. There is nothing more grounding for me. I love all the surprises and uncertainty.
Fear is something I have been thinking a lot about since that is a big part of being in the backcountry and for me, the trick is to ultimately have trust in myself and with the environment. When I let go of fear, some of my best work appears.
Being in nature will forever honor my truest self.
We love to examine those areas of our lives and our work that repeat over time. What themes do you find yourself returning to in your art? Why do you think you find yourself drawn to these themes again and again?
Sometimes the moon is in a phase, where I can’t tell if it is waxing or waning because it seems like it is doing a little bit of both. Unfortunately, I think I am chronically caught in some in-between state because I am constantly looking one step ahead rather than appreciating the sometimes half-ness of now. Instead, I painfully crave the fullness of us being our higher selves and what great impact that would have on our society. All in all, it’s a blessing though, it is probably the only thing that grounds my remarkably playful energy.
What hopes do you have as you look ahead in 2021?
Life is one big blur for me and I don’t really think of it as something that happens in years or on a timeline. My endless hunger for liberation and freedom for my people never fluctuates.